Review by Carly Fisher
Walking up the stairs and into the Dunedin Venue at the Hill Street Theatre, you are greeted with a pie and a pint and some of the friendliest venue team I have yet to meet here in Scotland (which says a lot because everyone is so nice and so excited!). It sets the scene perfectly for the interactiveness of the play you are about to see - you feel welcome and keen to see this show succeed…and so, the audience is set perfectly for the immersive courtroom drama that proceeds.
Written by Liam Rudden, Conflict in Court is a one hour piece that lets the audience not just decide the verdict of the show, but actively participate in it by cross examining witnesses. This is a key element in the show’s success - I feel we have all seen shows, particularly courtroom dramas with a choose your own ending scenario, but this heightened engagement by the audience is a stroke of genius for Rudden and ensures a highly engaged audience throughout.
The premise is simple - a Tory MP is accused of hiring a male prostitute and paying them for their services. When a big London newspaper gets a tip off about this, they, of course, run the story arguing that it is within the public’s interest to know. The case before us tracks our Tory MP suing the editor of the newspaper for damages…and so, the scene is set.
Undoubtedly, my experience of this show was heightened by the fact that the audience with which I saw the show was extremely engaged and asked really interesting questions. One in particular really stood out to me and left me thinking about the show long after I left the theatre - ‘how did you deem that this would pass the public interest test?’
And essentially, in that question, this audience member captured for me why shows like this, however fun and fringey, are so important - how do we deem what is within the public’s right to know? Where is that line crossed for parliamentarians and celebrities alike? When does someone’s right to privacy take priority?
There is some disparity in the cast’s execution of their characters with some actors clearly standing out within the ensemble. Immensely impressive were the two actors, Michael Daviot (taking on the role of wronged MP, Marcus Bailey) and Rhona Dalbeith (as Hazel Murray, the sure and confident Editor) who had to take to the witness stand and be cross examined by the audience for a 5 minute impro session - neither missed a beat! The warden, played by Kirsty Wardhaugh, offers great comic relief and is the perfect person to warm up the audience. Both Sean Calvey and Emma Lindsey too offer strong performances as the barristers representing each party.
This is the fastest court case you’ll ever see - within an hour, there is no time for many witnesses or evidence, opening and closing statements are swift - but the premise is there and the point is easy to understand…don’t trust everything you read, be sure about your facts before defaming another, and ultimately, really start to consider why the news you are reading has passed the so-called ‘public interest test.’